Tool sprawl is the result of attempting to solve a problem, typically with software, without first understanding the core of the problem.
Back in the day, when the majority of what classifies as a tool was a physical tool, adopting another tool came with costs. First, you had to travel to purchase, exchange money, goods, or services for it, and then find a place to store it.
Each adding up to the total cost of ownership (TOC).
Terms like tool sprawl and total cost of ownership are often thrown around in software companies by management. But the effects are felt by the individual contributors. Developers, system administrators, and support technicians don’t just know these terms, they feel their negative effects.
Recognizing these issues, leadership within organizations will create standards or “paved paths” to help guide the adoption of new technology and tools to reduce the burden felt by those working with the tools.
But when it comes to your own productivity, that responsibility lies on your shoulders.
“We become what we behold. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.” ― Marshall McLuhan
Action: identify, experiment, practice
Multi-purpose tools cloud your judgment of their effectiveness by forcing you to judge their many purposes simultaneously.
Take three different types of tools; paper notebook, Obsidian, and Scrivener.
Our culture encourages the usage of a single tool over using tools for a single purpose. Immediately the thought of which is “the best” surfaces to mind and the ones not chosen should be discarded. Attempting to choose the single best tool turns you into a maximizer faced with an impossible question.
There is no single best tool because each of the three listed has strengths over the other. Perhaps the physical notebook is best for travel and mental health, Obsidian links ideas together in a way that a notebook or Scrivener can’t do, and Scrivener can output beautiful e-books.
Choosing just a single tool is as detrimental to productivity as choosing all of them.
Identify. Find your next constraint by asking what’s the problem I’m attempting to solve?1
Experiment. Give yourself the freedom to dedicate x amount of hours to just learning the basics, then attempt to use the tool to solve your problem.2
Practice. As you use the tool, gather feedback on your experience and keep a keen eye on where friction builds up. Once friction is identified start over at step 1.
Example: Single usage vs single purpose
Paper notebook: Use to capture ideas, tasks, and insight while offline (afk)
Obsidian: Used for note-taking
Scrivener: Used as an editor for writing blogs, articles, manuscripts
Just because a tool “can” do something, doesn’t mean it should be used for everything.
Until next time,
Shout-out: Derek Schauland for recommending this topic.
More than likely you’ll find yourself trying to solve multiple problems at once, break it down.
Avoid sunk costs.